MARCH 2013


(Posted Fri. Mar 29th, 2013)

Mar. 29: With debates over ethanol heating up on the Hill again, the National Corn Growers Association offers a new installment in a series of articles comparing the environmental impacts of ethanol and petroleum as transportation fuels. Scientifically examining a wide array of environmental factors, this side-by-side comparison offers insight into the important differences between these fuels.

What sort of air and water pollution do these fuels cause?

  • Since 2005, non-toxic ethanol has replaced groundwater contaminant MTBE as the fuel ingredient used to increase octane.
  • Petroleum refiners use quite a bit of energy to separate aromatic components and very high boiling fractions for the octane needed for fuel. Many of the substances produce particulate substances leading to asthma and other health-related problems.

What type of waste is produced in the manufacture of these fuels? How do they compare in respect to the greenhouse gases emitted in the production of these fuels?

  • Based on the results of scientific testing, the EPA considers corn starch ethanol as producing 23 percent less greenhouse gas emissions compared to making and burning gasoline from petroleum. Recent evidence shows multiple ways of producing ethanol with 50 percent or less GHG compared to gasoline production.
  • The U.S. oil and gas industry generates more solid and liquid waste than municipal, agricultural, mining and other sources combined.

Since the RFS was first enacted how has increased ethanol use benefitted the United States?

  • In 2005 and again in 2007 with the enactment of the Energy Independence and Security Act, the government chose to promote the increased production of ethanol for several reasons including lower its GHG emission properties, its renewable nature and as it decreases reliance on foreign oil. Ethanol production and use is estimated to have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 100 million metric tons in 2012. In one year, that reduction is equivalent to removing 20.2 million light duty vehicles from the highways. Draft studies estimate a cumulative reduction of over 150 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States between the enactment of the original RFS legislation in 2005 and 2012.
  • Since the enactment of the original RFS in 2005, America’s oil demand has decreased, and national oil import dependence has fallen from 60 percent to 45 percent. In 2010, U.S. oil imports fell below 50 percent for the first time since 1997. Multiple factors contributed to the decrease in petroleum usage including the increased use of ethanol, the high cost of oil and increased vehicle efficiencies.

Looking at how the production of these fuels compares side-by-side, it becomes evident that ethanol is truly renewable and produced in a greener manner than its fossil fuel counterparts. Where petroleum creates reliance upon a fuel pulled from the ground and imported from abroad, ethanol improves our environment while increasing our national and energy security.